Montclair State University’s research activities comply with federal and state guidelines and University policies, and are informed by the research restart plans of other research universities. Principal Investigators and Laboratory Directors will be responsible for ensuring that research conducted under their supervision follows the guidelines set forth below.

Part 1: A Phased Approach

Montclair State will follow a phased approach to restarting research, in alignment with the Governor’s stages of recovery. Transitions between stages will be communicated by the Vice Provost for Research. As of the date of this plan, New Jersey is in Stage 2.

Stage 1

Only research deemed essential by the MSU Contingency and Continuity Plan is allowed. Much research is temporarily halted with exceptions such as some human subjects research, biological labs, field research, critical instrumentation, and animal care. Human subjects research that requires in-person participation remains halted. Guidelines for safe research practices during the pandemic are launched and ongoing research activities are brought into compliance with these newly established guidelines.

Stage 2

Non-essential research laboratories begin resuming research using newly established safety protocols. Students return to laboratories on a limited basis with permission provided by the Dean’s office.

Social distancing requirements, disinfection of laboratories, and proper personal protective equipment (PPE) must always be employed as outlined in the Laboratory Safety section of this document. The number of active laboratory researchers may be reduced to comply with university pandemic safety protocols. In addition, flexible work schedules, work shifts, and/or staggered workdays are additional measures to de-densify the laboratories. Lab meetings should be conducted remotely when possible. Visitors are restricted from labs unless they are a human subject participant. A list of the name, date and location for all researchers and human subjects must be recorded and maintained for possible contact tracing purposes.

Remote and field-based research should be continued where possible. Face-to-face human subject research utilizing only non-invasive methods may resume in accordance with established policies for social distancing, face coverings and disinfection.

Stage 3

Laboratory research restrictions are relaxed in accordance with federal and state health guidelines. Most research is encouraged to resume, remaining in compliance with the University’s policies on social distancing, safety protocols, and restrictions on the number of researchers and staff present in laboratories at one time. Some research that can be conducted effectively remotely may continue in that mode. Research meetings and presentations may continue to be held virtually where possible to reduce person-to-person contact.

Depending on federal and local health recommendations, human subject research that utilizes invasive procedures such as blood collection or blood pressure monitoring may resume using proper and appropriately defined safety protocols.

Stage 4 (New Normal)

Research operations on funded and unfunded projects are restored with the safety protocols appropriate when the State enters the “new normal” phase.

Part 2: Conducting Research Safely

Laboratory-based and human subjects research must be conducted using protocols designed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 infection.

Laboratory-based Research

Different laboratory practices are required for classroom and research laboratories during the COVID-19 pandemic. To prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus, researchers are required to wear PPE, practice social distancing in the laboratory, and use frequent disinfection procedures.

  • Researchers must perform self health checks prior to coming to campus, and if they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 they must not come to campus.
  • Researchers must follow the University’s face covering and hand hygiene policy and wear snug cloth face coverings. Loose cloth face coverings can pose a safety hazard in a laboratory setting.
  • Researchers should maintain at least a 6-foot radius from other people in the lab unless alternative procedures have been approved for the specific research protocol.
  • Researchers should avoid sharing equipment and materials to the greatest extent possible. Surfaces of materials/equipment that must be shared must be cleaned before and after use by each researcher.
  • Researchers should conduct proper disinfection of common research areas and frequently touched surfaces such as computer keyboards, computer displays, light switches, doorknobs, refrigerator/freezer handles, equipment panels/switches, bench tops, biosafety cabinet and fume hood sashes, bio-waste container lids, commonly used hand tools (such as pipettors) and shared PPE (such as laser goggles).
  • Care should be taken when disinfecting sensitive equipment to prevent disruption of the equipment and when disinfecting physical, chemical or biological laboratory experiments where the disinfectant may contaminate, invalidate or otherwise alter the study  results.
  • PPE must be available in shared areas, e.g., areas around shared equipment.
  • Lab meetings should be held virtually as much as possible.

Human Subjects Research

Human subject research that is conducted remotely does not require any additional safety precautions related to minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Examples include use of online interviews, surveys, virtually conducted focus groups, and other online methods.

Research that involves human subjects in an on-campus setting must be carefully conducted and requires additional precautions.

  • Human subjects must be screened prior to arriving on campus and again upon arrival. The screening should ensure that subjects:
    • have not received a diagnosis of COVID-19.
    • have not/are not experiencing any COVID-19 related symptoms.
    • have not been in close contact with a person diagnosed with or awaiting test results for COVID-19.
    • have not travelled outside of New Jersey or internationally or by cruise ship within the last 14 days.
  • The researcher must either conduct the screening or require the human subject to employ a self-check application and sign an acknowledgement of risk form made available by the University. The researcher must maintain a record of the screening. Such screenings do not require IRB approval as long as the information will not be added to the research data set.
  • Subjects in known high-risk groups—e.g., adults older than 65; minors and adults with known high risk medical conditions—may be invited to campus but must be required by researchers to wear a mask at all times and follow University social distancing protocols. Where possible and consistent with the needs of the research project, individuals who identify as high risk should be permitted to participate remotely.
  • Social distancing of at least 6 feet must be maintained during the visit unless alternative procedures have been approved for the specific research protocol.
  • Participants should be scheduled for appointments at times that do not overlap with other participants to avoid individuals waiting in areas within 6 feet of each other. Participant schedules should provide adequate time to sanitize the research area and equipment between visits.
  • Research personnel and human subjects must frequently sanitize or wash hands at appropriate times during the visit.
  • Subjects and research personnel must wear face coverings, which follow the University face covering policy. Research personnel interacting with subjects must wear gloves and remove them properly between subjects. If the research requires participation by persons who have been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days, personnel shall also wear goggles or face shields, and gowns.
  • A list of the name, date, location, email, phone number, and screening information for all human subjects participating in research must be recorded for possible contact tracing purposes. Subjects must agree in writing to this limitation to confidentiality as outlined in approved protocols.

Research that involves human subjects in off campus locations (e.g. schools districts, third party clinics etc.) must be carefully conducted, and researchers must follow the same precautions as required for on-campus human research. In addition, researchers must comply with any additional requirements of the host site. The researcher must obtain written notice from an authorized person at the research site certifying that approval has been granted for research activities to resume at the off-campus location and a list of the COVID-19 related precautions and measures that must be taken at the site. The researcher must provide a copy of that notice to Hila Berger, Director of Research Compliance.

Part 3: Laboratory Disinfection Procedures

Researchers are required to follow the CDC Recommendations on Cleaning and Disinfecting their Research Facilities.

The following procedures are to be followed by all laboratory occupants after receiving training by the Chemical Hygiene Officer or designee.

  1. Follow all New Jersey county, state, and federal Public Health requirements that are in place during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  2. Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): lab coat, disposable nitrile gloves, and eye protection. Lab occupants should observe the University face covering policy. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, which accelerates the spread of infections. Wash your hands often with soap and water (20 seconds of scrubbing). Hand sanitizer is not a substitute for handwashing in the laboratory.
  3. Disinfect shared high touch surfaces before and after use, including chairs, desktops, computer keyboards, computer displays, light switches, doorknobs, doors, door push plates, refrigerator/freezer handles and their doors; equipment panels/switches, bench tops; biosafety cabinet and fume hood sashes and their working surfaces; bio-waste container lids; commonly used hand tools and small objects (pipettors); and shared PPE (laser goggles). Be careful when disinfecting sensitive equipment to prevent disruption of the equipment.
  4. Preparing the Lab- Remove all unnecessary items from benchtops. Benchtop liners (diaper papers) can not be cleaned or disinfected. Replace liners daily or do not use them. Ensure that all sharps are stored or disposed of appropriately. Discard all contents of benchtop waste containers into an appropriate waste stream.
  5. Instructions for Cleaning and Disinfecting:
    1. Wash hands; wear gloves and safety glasses.
    2. Perform routine cleaning with soap and water to remove germs and dirt on surfaces.
    3. Carefully apply Spartan TB-Cide, an EPA approved disinfectant provided to the laboratories by MSU Facilities. Spray all surfaces and allow for three minute contact time. After three minutes, wipe with a paper towel or continue to let air dry.
    4. Discard paper towels and disinfecting wipes into the regular trash.
  6. Questions about the process should be directed to the Office of Research or Environmental Health and Safety.

Last Modified: Thursday, January 28, 2021 10:57 am